I’m looking through a cold bedroom window
hedgehogged with condensation at a rose bush
pricked with autumn frost, though still glowing red
like the sting that might be his knees, by now,
wherever he’s gone, training for the marathon,
Ewerby, Haverholme, running with the river
through white-padded ploughlines, or anywhere
just as well France or Greece, till he was back;
Africa, even, where at the end of the race,
the leopard, locked on to the neck of the springbok,
had seemed to bring it whispering down,
with the ease of frost releasing a rose.
I can picture it outside the church door,
a scooped grey H driven into the lawn,
like an axe-blade with two chopped-off handles
honing the frost, slicing the siling rain.
A scraper, after ditches and sludge-banks,
yard-muck, the labouring roads, for feather-
flecked women, slodgers embarrassed to stand
given the big animal language of their hands.
Nobody used it, whatever it was,
by the time we drove there, whether or not
it really helped, scraping the body off,
before words got to work on the inside,
on what was left of whatever it’s called,
upbringing, nature – what the hell – the soul.
After the shattering road, and the clutching
flush of shadows cast by the Redmires pines,
after the three draining reservoir blues
and the rough-cut tyres gouging up the track,
with the sweat leathering, the water bottle
delicious with dust, up, to Hallam Moor,
out among the deep gorse calls of the grouse
and the oceanic slapping of the wind —
just back, slamming past the gravel-splashed rocks
into July evening light like a fist
sprung open, the metal become muscle,
down through the sheep fields, through casts of sparrows,
down to the breathtaking curve of Fulwood Lane;
where I stopped, to watch over the city,
and saw, in the sun filling the valley
the shadow of another, and felt that the blood
running its currents was the chain going
nowhere, for all of it – the hills, the brook,
and the upcast light of Saturday night
in all the raw expanse of twenty-four –
amounted to nothing more than your absence.
Waking before dawn on Christmas morning
to the stocking at the foot of the bed:
crisp and crackling, as heavy as a log
and red as the licks of the fire downstairs.
It bulged with bumps of plastic and wrapping,
like a snake that had swallowed a whole pig:
we tugged out figures and cards, reaching deep
so the wool shucked our sleeves bare of our arms.
And always, in the toe, as an old joke,
was a satsuma, cold to the hand, bland now
beside the net of gold coins and the more
piled up downstairs into the needles of the tree.
I never knew where the name was from.
Where they disappeared to after Christmas.
I never dreamt then of ever leaving home,
that some day I would, like an afterthought,
come to stand in Satsuma, at the toe
of Japan’s long stocking, feeling the glow
of the winter sun pulling up as wholly
as the memory unsleeved from its cover.